The stories that I tell are inspired by a lifetime spent travelling around the countries that kiss the coasts of the Mediterranean sea; by every restaurant and cafe I’ve had the pleasure of kicking back in; by the bustling markets, glittering delicatessens and traditional food stores that have sparked new ideas; by the forgotten recipes I find in dusty backstreet bookshops and painstakingly translate; by all the beautiful people who’ve sat around my dinner table and shared their own stories; and, last but not least, by my parents who, inspired by that evergreen stalwart of British televisual culture, The Good Life purchased a sizeable chunk of the field behind our family home and transformed it into a giant kitchen garden complete with a reclaimed greenhouse and a rickety old chicken coup. Every Spring, I remember helping them to plant carrots, rows and rows of them, neatly positioned alongside lettuces, onions, cabbages, leeks, tomatoes, asparagus, raspberry canes, blackcurrants, strawberries and much, much more; this was the way my family rolled back then and we were virtually self-sufficient for years. I look back on that experience with a sparkling gratitude because my parents taught me to respect the land and to value the food we eat; they also taught me that the best dishes are the simplest ones using the very best, freshest ingredients you can find. With that in mind, I recently bought a lovely bunch of carrots with the intention of making this classic Turkish salad – yoğurtlu havuç salatasi – which I first sampled years ago sitting at the table of a tiny taverna in the centre of Bodrum. Back then, it was still a traditional fishing village complete with huddles of chattering widows who spent their days gossiping whilst cracking open huge sacks pistachio nuts. This fresh and creamy alternative to the more familiar slaw is delicious just as it is but, this time, I had intended to include some chopped pistachios to deliver an even more interesting texture. That was until I spotted the carrot tops I had left on the side and made a snap decision to blitz them with the nuts to make a punchy pesto. Served alongside a Sicilian-style endive salad and some grilled halloumi drizzled with honey and a scattering of nigella seeds, this was an absolutely heavenly combination. And the good news is that this recipe yields enough pesto to stir through some freshly cooked spaghettini to create a quick post-work supper for two.
500g carrots with leafy tops; tops removed and set aside, carrots peeled and coarsely grated
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Half a tsp of salt
Half a tsp of unrefined granulated sugar
250g Turkish yoghurt (you can also use Greek yoghurt)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A pinch of pul biber, for garnishing
For the pesto:
A generous handful of leafy carrot tops, chopped
A handful of basil leaves
50g pistachios (you can also us walnut halves)
1 garlic clove
70-100g of extra-virgin olive oil
25g Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
How I make it
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil. Add the grated carrots and stir fry until they are cooked but still retain their bite (around 10 minutes). Remove from pan, stir in the salt and sugar. Set aside to cool.
Mix the chopped garlic with the yoghurt and set aside.
Meanwhile, place all the pesto ingredients – except for the oil and the grated parmesan – in a food processor and whizz up into a paste. Then slowly add the oil until you achieve a pesto-like consistency. Stir in the parmesan and season to your taste.
Gently mix the cooled carrots with the garlicky yoghurt. Turn out into a pretty dish and top with some of the pesto. Garnish with a pinch of pul biber.
This salad will keep in the fridge for a couple of days; any remaining pesto can be stored in the fridge for up to a week or you an freeze it for another day.